De Regnis: On Spiritual Conditions and Prohibitions

Although most of my writing is visible and accessible through my blog and my ebooks, there are a bunch of writing projects that I don’t necessarily intend for public release.  When I was recently going through my old documents folder on my computer, I found a writing project I had intended to be a compendium of Hermetic and Neoplatonic knowledge, guidance, and advice that would serve to document my understandings and work as a textbook unto itself, both for my benefit and any who might come after me.  This project, De Regnis or “On Kingdoms”, got pretty far along before it got abandoned, though parts of it serve as seeds or are outright cannibalized for some of my other works.  Though I have no plans to continue writing this text, I want to share some of the sections I wrote that can act as a useful introduction to some of the practices of Hermetic magic in a modern context.  My views and practices and experiences have grown considerably since then, but perhaps it can help those who are just getting started or are curious about how to fortify their own practices and views.  If you have any views, comments, suggestions, or ideas on the topics shared in this post, please feel free to share in the comments!

Today’s selection will be on the topics of spiritual conditions and prohibitions.

On Spiritual Conditions

Humanity, as any other class or race of sentient entities, is a complex creature, with complexinteractions that change complex states in one’s body, soul, spirit, and mind. Different interactionscan change the state and condition of a human: just as washing in water can make one clean,spilling dirt or dust on one can make one dirty. Sometimes, these changes are only superficial,but other interactions can induce longer or deeper changes, such as injuries or illnesses. Someinteractions affect the spiritual component of humanity in addition to or instead of the physicalcomponent, and these conditions must be recognized and worked with in order to maintain one’shealth and well-being. For one to work with the cosmos, it is not enough to limit one’s attention tothe self present in the physical world, but to the self that is present and can travel among all worlds.Although there are infinite conditions that the self can undergo, some of the most important and well-known conditions that should be avoided or fixed are defilement, affliction, haunting, stress,and shaman sickness.

Defilement. Just as the physical body collects dirt, grime, and filth that can create odors, illnesses, or other hygienic problems, so too does the spiritual body collect negative emotions, miasma,and pollution that cause spiritual problems. Sometimes these defilements have no physical basis,but they often do, such as coming in contact with something that has a markedly negative impression put upon it. Being defiled can cause spirits to stay away from yourself, and often requires purification of both the body and the spirit, physical cleaning and spiritual cleansing.

Affliction. Unhealthy spiritual conditions that one suffers to their detriment. Often, being afflicted has the result of one feeling “out of step with time”, always at the wrong place or at the wrong time, constant bad luck, constant or chronic illness or fatigue, opportunities being restricted or taken away, or similar. Two primary kinds of affliction exist, crossed and cursed. Crossed conditions are an affliction that one enters into through one’s irreverence, disrespect, ignorance,vulgarity, banality, or carelessness in one’s actions; crossed conditions are often the result of disrespecting or ignoring spiritual prohibitions or taboos, and angering spirits or gods. Cursed conditions are similar, but are the result of someone performing a ritual to explicitly harm the target. Crossed conditions are best removed through appeasing and asking forgiveness of the spirits, while curses must be dealt with and removed on their own terms or by working with the original curser.

Haunting. A condition where a person or place is under constant assailing or infestation by a spirit. Haunted conditions may take the form of obsession or possession. With obsession, the spirit constantly lingers around its target, nagging and annoying or generally causing harm and malignance; this is not unlike being crossed, and can sometimes be a result of being crossed.Possession is when one is dominated and controlled by a spirit, performing actions that the target would otherwise not do while unafflicted. Blackouts and loss of memory, as well as extraordinary physical or spiritual ability, are common indications of possession. Depending on the strength of the spirit haunting the target, varying levels of skill and force may be required to helping the situation,from a simple spiritual bath to a week-long exorcism or more.

Stress. A condition where one’s spiritual and energetic capabilities are fatigued to the point of exhaustion. Excessive ritual without properly preparing oneself, working for long amounts of time without rest and recuperation, and being too close to sources of power can all induce stress or burnout. Physical fatigue, fevers, headaches, hunger, delirium, sickness, and lowered cognitive ability can all be the results of spiritual stress. Proper rest and nourishment are needed to remove stressed conditions, including both physical and spiritual measures. Stress may be an indication that one is trying to attempt too much too fast; more preparation and simple exercises to build up one’s tolerance for spiritual work and power may be required.

Shaman sickness. An idea taken from various animist cultures, shaman sickness indicates that one is called to work with the spiritual world but ignores the call. Unlike simple vocations in the human world, when the spirits call and are ignored, humans suffer. Often, shaman sickness is present in children or young adults who are not properly spiritually raised or who try to shun the spiritual side of humanity, and symptoms can be at least as bad as crossed conditions, if not extreme up to the point of severe illness and death. Shaman sickness may happen to those who have not yet entered into a spiritual path or to those who have left their path entirely; in both instances, one is not performing their cosmic duty and will suffer until they reclaim their responsibilities. Shaman sickness is cured only by beginning or continuing the work given to spiritual workers.

On Prohibitions

Although not an active part of practice, the observation of restrictions and prohibitions on one’s actions is still an important part of one’s work. Just as there are laws in place to keep citizens of a country from enacting criminal deeds, many religions and spiritual traditions have sets of rules,precepts, and commandments to keep their adherents from straying from the path or performing acts antithetical to the teachings of those paths. Such prohibitions may be developed in any number of ways, but the most important and meaningful are those obtained from the spirits themselves, be they a god or some other spirit.

Prohibitions received from the spirits themselves, such as the Ten Commandments given to Moses by the God of Judaism, are usually set in place to please or placate the spirits that give them, or to keep them in an agreeable contract or vow with the people given the prohibitions.Such prohibitions, also known as taboo, are considered of the highest priority and should always be followed. Sometimes, as in the Noahide Laws, these prohibitions are intended for all people whether part of a particular religion or not. In other cases, these rules are given only to individuals for their own well-being and progress, or for the creation and effecting of vows.

Personal vows and ascetic practices, on the other hand, are prohibitions that one puts upon their own self and practice. Oftentimes, these vows are made as a mark of dedication to one’s path or to a particular spirit, such as prohibiting oneself from consuming intoxicants if one works with a god of purification or sobriety, or prohibiting oneself from drinking wine without making an offering of it to a god of pleasure and intoxication. Some vows are purely symbolic or have their basis in a particular spirit’s mythos and history, or are instituted to keep one’s practice in line or from falling apart. Extreme versions of these vows, sometimes known as a geas, implies utter adherence and obedience to a particular vow, with the result of breaking the vow being extreme debilitation, affliction, or even death; such vows are bindings.

Other prohibitions that might be observed, especially those that religions or traditions keep as a whole, often have natural or political causes that require certain rules of behavior to be kept to keep their followers a cohesive group as well as to ensure their practice and existence. For instance,rules to prevent gossip, clarity of speech, not making false accusations, not lying or exaggerating one’s stories, and not charging interest on loans are rules that, although not having a clear spiritual origin, help in other spiritual objectives as well as living a good life according to the ethics and values of a particular path. Keeping a rule of secrecy, not speaking to others of lessons learned, and similar laws of silence can help ensure the existence and sacredness of a tradition, especially one whose lessons are initiations or are mysteries that are kept from the general public. Other rules,such as the kosher food and dietary laws of Judaism, are meant as sanitary codes or similar guidelines to ensure the physical health and longevity of their adherents, which are necessary in order to develop a healthy spiritual life.

These and other prohibitions, though useful, are by no means mandated in the Great Work,depending on one’s path and progress. However, when one accepts a prohibition from a spirit, a group one follows, or oneself, it is essential that one carry out that prohibition. Breaking any rules that one is bound to is nothing good, and one should strive as much as possible to avoid doing so.It sometimes happens, however, that one breaks a prohibition, either with or without the intention to break it; breaking such a prohibition or vow can have no effect or chaotic and ultimately fatal effects, depending on the source and nature of the prohibition. Upon breaking a vow, one should always strive to make peace with the spirit or group that instituted the prohibition, confessing one’s violation of the rule, returning any boon or blessing that was bestowed in exchange for accepting the vow, and making reparatory offerings and apologies to spirits that demand it. Such offerings are dependent on the spirits that require them, so asking them or their priests for what may be required to mend a broken vow or to forgive a violated prohibition is necessary. Sometimes a vow must be broken to prevent a greater vow from being broken, or to prevent a great danger or evil that might befall oneself; in other words, utility can sometimes trump propriety. In these cases,upon breaking the vow or prohibition, one should still go through with the process of atonement and making reparatory offerings.

The purpose of accepting and carrying out vows and prohibitions is to show dignity, uprightness,and constancy in one’s Work. Through these vows, people, spirits, and the worlds we work in can depend on us and trust us with power, knowledge, and spiritual strength. However, by breaking such vows, one can often lose this respect and trust gained from the spirits. This can cause spirits to be less cooperative, ignore one altogether, or actively harm the one who breaks vows and prohibitions;similar results can happen just as easily with human entities as they can with spiritual entities. If one finds a vow too extreme to uphold, it is better to never accept it than to break it later and ask for forgiveness; if one has already accepted the vow, then the recommended practice would be to confer with the spirits or group of people who instituted it and ask whether the vow might be lifted or forgiven, depending on one’s situation. This latter choice, though not as harmful as outright breaking a vow and indicating that one is humble and self-aware enough to recognize one’s own weakness, is not preferable, however.

Prohibitions, vows, and mutual offerings can all be thought of as contracts. If several parties sign onto a contract with certain specifications, expectations, payments, and contingencies, then those parties are considered bound and obligated to uphold the terms of the contract. If any one party breaks the terms of the contract, any contingencies related to the contract being nullified or the specific part violated may come into play; otherwise, the contract may be in continued effect or may be entirely annulled depending on the terms of the contract. Once a contract is broken,there are usually no expectations about what the backlash, if any, might be; this is usually up to the spirits or to the group that institutes it, but are often known well in advance of any contract being signed, and are often part of the contract itself.

It so happens that one may enter into a contract, prohibition, or vow with a spirit or entity, including a person or a group of persons, and instead of the practitioner violating the prohibition or contract, it is the other party who fails to carry out the terms of the vow. For instance, a priest may seek the aid of a particular god for a particular end, promising to make offerings on their behalf in exchange for work done for the priest, but the event and work never come to pass. In such cases, the one who asked for the prohibition is often freed from the vow, since the other party broke it; however, one should be absolutely sure in approaching this matter, and always seek find out why the vow was not upheld or whether such a vow should never have been taken up to begin with. In the case where the vow on a spirit is not upheld, many factors can come into play,not all of which may be under the spirit’s capability. Sometimes, the integrity or credibility of the spirit is called into question; if this is found lacking, another spirit should be worked with

On Making Vows to the Gods (protip: don’t)

I was doing a reading not too long ago with someone who was beset on all sides with spiritual problems.  We went through the usual gamut of potential causes for issues like poor health, decreased vitality, constant bad luck, and the like: spiritual obsession or possession by a spirit, being cursed, fucking up against spirits, and the like.  During my investigation, I kept getting the image that this dude is a little spiritually imbalanced in several ways, but also that he ended up crossed rather than cursed.  The distinction here is crucial: being cursed indicates that someone has been actively working magic against you, while being crossed indicates that you’ve messed up and you’re having to pay the penalty for it.  There are lots of ways you can get yourself crossed: taking a bath in a sacred spring, having sex in a graveyard, and generally bringing pollution into a place where pollution is verboten. Generally, if you’ve done something to insult or injure a spirit through negligence or desecration, chances are that they’re going to fight back and punish you for it.  That said, there are other ways you can insult a spirit, some of which can be downright sinister, even if you don’t mean for it to be so.

Well, it so happens that this dude mentioned that, at one point, he had made a vow.  Not just any vow: he had made a vow to Jesus Christ to stop smoking.  No conditions, no leeway, no ways out.  Simply, no more smoking, period.  Dude’s a smoker, and I can understand; the buzz of nicotine is kinda awesome, but it quite quickly becomes addictive, and there are the litanies of health problems associated with smoking.  He mentioned also, however, that he never stopped smoking, and that he’s also had energy problems, especially involving his chest area, like something is just being sucked out of him.  He figured that, even after he made his vow, one little cigarette once in a while wouldn’t hurt.  Sure, he noticed his life getting better once he quit, but after that first cigarette that couldn’t really hurt, his life took another downturn, but didn’t think much of it.

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After doing a few more checks with divination, yeah, it turns out that this was a major cause of his spiritual issues.  Not the one single root cause, but definitely a contributing factor in what was going on with his life.  And, further, that yes, OF COURSE he needs to stop smoking.  I told him off in no uncertain terms that he’s done smoking now forever; he made a vow, he broke his vow, and his life has been getting shittier because of it.  There’s no excuse, no ifs-ands-or-buts here.  He needs to stop smoking pronto cold turkey and completely.  Quitting smoking is a GOOD THING on so many levels for this dude.

Vows and promises made to the gods are sacred, powerful things.  They are one of the last, ultimate, final tools I use in my work with the gods, because once a vow is made, you’re locked into it.  There is no getting out of it unless the one with whom you made a vow has released you from it.  A vow is a contract, and breaching that contract is no bueno.  Breaking a vow is a surefire way to get crossed, if not killed, and there is going to be a penalty exacted on your vow-breaking ass.  You have no excuse when you make a vow and then break it; spirits expect you to be true to your word, especially if you expect them to be true to theirs.  If you show yourself as trustworthy to a spirit, especially a god or God, and you go back and shatter that trust by doing exactly what you said you wouldn’t, or conversely by not doing what you said you would do, they’re going to (at a minimum) cease any blessing or aid they’ll give you.  More likely, they’ll make it a point to show you “yo, you done fucked up”.

Sometimes, vows are more like taboos.  Consider the readings that Santeros get, their ita, that indicates proscribed actions or foodstuffs.  Some people can’t eat red food, or food that has touched open flame; some can’t go into open-air markets; some can’t wear all black; some can’t be in the same room as a particular type of practitioner.  These aren’t necessarily vows, per se, but taboos, sacred prohibitions that will have a cost if they’re done, especially after the saints told you “yo, don’t do this”.  Do them if you want, but don’t be surprised when you eat that grilled steak and you’re the only person at the dinner party who got food poisoning.  If the spirits tell you to act a certain way and if you agree with that, don’t act contrary to what they said.  Sometimes they’re looking out for your own benefit; sometimes they want you to act in a certain way to serve them better.  Listen to them.  Don’t ignore them.  Don’t disrespect them.  Don’t reneg on them.

So, in that light, here’s some tips for you to make good vows:

  • If there is literally any other way to get something accomplished, don’t make vows.
  • Never make vows when on a spiritual, chemical, or emotional high.
  • Only make vows after you have soberly and seriously thought them through and in all possible circumstances.
  • Never get strong-armed or forced into making a vow you don’t want unless you literally have no other recourse open to you.
  • Never make a vow that you can’t keep.
  • Never make a vow that requires the actions or dependencies of other people.
  • Only make vows that require your own actions.
  • If possible, build conditions into the vow: time limits (“for the next lunar month”), conditions (“as long as I am dating so-and-so”), and the like are all totally legit.
  • Never, NEVER, NEVERNEVER, NEVER break a vow once made.  What comes to you later for breaking it is well-deserved and I will have no pity for you.